10 Things You Didn’t Know about Thai Buddhism

You can’t spend much time in Thailand without coming across a Buddhist temple or seeing saffron-robed Buddhist monks. Maybe you know a lot about Thai Buddhism but do you know about the rules for Buddhist monks? Here are 10 curious things that you maybe didn’t know about Buddhism and monks in Thailand – and information on how to stay in a Buddhist temple.

1 Almost all of the monks you see in Thailand are part of the Theravada tradition of Buddhism which is the predominant ‘religion’ in Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

2 Monks learn the Pali language for ceremonies and chanting. It’s the language the Buddha taught in and was the language of ordinary people (as opposed to priests) during the time of the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism uses Sanskrit eg Dhamma is Pali, Dharma is Sanskrit; kamma is Pali, karma is Sanskrit.

2 Novice monks have to follow 10 Precepts (ethical guidelines) and 75 ‘training rules’. Fully ordained monks have to follow 227 rules which cover everything from how to eat/dress/speak/teach the dhamma to where they can sleep.

Novice Buddhist monks

These young boys may be novice monks with strict rules to follow but they are still children and enjoy some fun when the adult monks aren’t around

3 Young boys can enter a temple to live and become a novice monk at aged 12. To be fully ordained a man has to be 20 years old.

4 Monks are not supposed to handle money which causes practical difficulties in the modern world. You may see monks shopping in the supermarket but often they will have a lay person with them to handle the money.

5 Monks should not touch any women, even their own mother or other relatives, so women should take care not to touch a monk by accident and not to sit beside a monk on a songthaew or bus. If a woman wants to pass something to a monk she should lay it down beside him and he will pick it up, not hand it to him directly.

Thai Buddhist monks alms round

Buddhist monks on their morning alms round

6 Monks are supposed to fast between noon and the following sunrise.

7 Monks are not supposed to share a house for more than three consecutive nights with an unordained person.

8 It’s considered inappropriate for a monk to insert large morsels of food into his mouth when eating. A mouthful of food should not be greater than the volume of a peacock’s egg.

9 A monk should not teach the dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) to somebody holding an umbrella.

10 Some monks spend the majority of their time travelling from place to place, sleeping in forests, temples or crematoriums. However, in the rainy season there is an annual ‘rains retreat’ when all monks must reside at one temple and only leave for their alms rounds or essential business.

Stay in a Buddhist temple

To live alongside monks and learn more about their lives and Buddhism you can stay in a temple.  Men can ordain as novice monks if they wish.  Read about my stay at Wat Sriboonruang with Temple Retreat Thailand here.   You can contact the temple retreat and monk ordination programme through their website and Facebook.

White Temple Chiang Rai

A foreign monk and novice enjoying the White Temple in Chiang Rai


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